The Livermore Valley wine region of Northern California could be deemed the Anti-Napa, with its less than pristine wineries, few luxury B+B’s and minimal foodie culture. What the Valley does have, however, is a low-key vibe, family-owned wineries and one big-name draw–Wente Vineyards. Founded in 1883 and now run by 4th and 5th generation family winemakers, Wente produces more than 800,000 cases a year, dwarfing all other Livermore Valley producers combined.
VinoDuo has visited Wente twice, most recently a year ago March. We flipped for the 2012 Sonata, a Syrah-Cab Franc blend and the 2013 Serenity, a deep, complex wine made from Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise grapes. Sonata and Serenity are “small lot” labels, with prices in the $50-$60 range. That’s a bit out of the VinoDuo buying budget so we recently purchased Wente’s Charles Wetmore 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25/bottle) to try out on some Napa Cab-loving friends. The wine is 77% Cabernet Sauvignon with small contributions of Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Merlot.
The nose served up an interesting combo of tobacco and florals, with sumptuous flavors of plum and cherry. Our friend the Napa Snob loved it at first taste but thought it died on the finish, while Gary agreed with the winery’s tasting notes that it had a “long smooth finish.” The bottle disappeared very quickly as it paired nicely with the homemade grilled steak and chicken fajitas. For $25, the 2013 Charles Wetmore Cab is a strong contender for a great weekend wine value. If you see it on a local wine list, don’t hesitate to order it.
The Wente Charles Wetmore 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $25 and is available throughout the US.
Gary is the Italian red wine lover of the Duo. Amarone, Barbara d’Alba, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Barolo take up a lot of room in our wine cellar/crawlspace, and with good reason. Gary is also an expert pizza chef and eggplant parm maker, and there’s nothing better than drinking lusty Italian wine with home-cooked specialties.
Barolo is a particular favorite; one of two great wines made from the Nebbiolo grape in the Piedmont region [the the other is Barbaresco.] We bought a few bottles of the 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione last year after sampling the 2009 at the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival. While the 2011 ages in our basement, we enjoyed a sneak preview of that vintage at our favorite Italian restaurant La Campania in Waltham, Mass.
We ordered a 1/2 bottle of the 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione to pair with the world’s best veal chop and beef tenderloin. We recall a medium nose with some cedar, tar, and barnyard and luscious flavors with notes of intense dried cherry, plum pudding. The wine is rich, full-bodied and well-balanced with pronounced-but-tame tannins.
Understanding that 1/2 bottles age a bit more quickly [something about physics and oxygen, Gary told Lisa] we plan on cracking open the full bottle of the 2011 next year.
The 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione retails for about $50.
The Vinho Verde region of Portugal has been producing wine for 2,000+ years. VinoDuo has been drinking Vinho Verde wine for three years, and we wonder how we ever got through a summer without it. “Verde” translates to green, but in this case it refers to a young wine, released just 3 to 6 months after harvest. Light, fresh, with a slight frizzante to tickle your palate, Vinho Verde is versatile–great sipping on its own and a wonderful companion to lighter meals. Oh, we’ve never paid more than $10 for a bottle. And we’ve never tasted a bad one…although we continually do research to find a loser!
Our current fave is Ponte Branco Vinho Verde 2015. Made from Loureiro and Trajadura grapes, it’s a light straw-colored gem, crisp and lively, with hints of citrus. Polished off in under an hour with manchego cheese and a willing friend, the Ponte Branco has earned a place in the summer deck wine rotation.
Sells for $8-12 retail.
Note: Following is a favorite post from 2014.
Eastern European blood runs through both members of VinoDuo’s veins, though it’s more Jewish shtetl than rolling vineyards. So when Lisa saw that a handful of winemakers from the old country were exhibiting at the Boston Wine Expo 2014, she made a beeline for their tables and never left. Nothing like discovering an entirely new wine region to make a blogger grin, purple tongue and all.
First stop was Georgia, in the Caucasus region. Apparently Georgia is the Old, Old World wine region, calling itself the first wine producing country in the world. With 7,000 years of winemaking history, the Georgians have had plenty of time to hone their craft. And despite agricultural and geopolitical catastrophes in the recent past, the wine presented by Khareba Winery was, on the whole delightful. But with no U.S. distributor, Khareba’s wines aren’t yet available stateside. If you want to sip Lisa’s favorites, you’ll have to go to Tbilisi.
Khareba produces its 20+ wines in two distinct geographic regions—Kakheti in the East and Imereti in the West—using both ancient and modern winemaking styles. The traditional Georgian method of winemaking uses a qvevri, a large, egg-shaped clay vessel lined with beeswax and buried in the ground, for fermentation, maceration and storage of wine. These skin-fermented white wines have become something of a fad in U.S. winebars, where they’re marketed as “orange wines.” In Georgia, they’re just called “wine.”
What to Drink
Lisa sampled a mish-mash of Khareba wines from the East and West, using the ancient method and the modern European style. Her favorites crossed geography, methodology, and grape.
- Krakhuna Monastary Wine – a dry white wine from the Western region; fermented and aged for 8 months in Amphora (Qvevri) with 5% of its skins. Far from being “orange” the Krakhuna (name of the grape) produced in the West of the country is a delicate light color, with a lovely floral nose and limestone on the palate. Full-bodied and bone dry, sedate; not a sipping wine.
- Krakhuna 2013 – Same grape, same region, different method (stainless tanks). Totally different profile. Pale and dry but a lively palate, nice citrus tones. A great “deck wine.”
- Rkatsiteli 2013 – From the East comes this wine in production since 1892. Made in the European style the Rkatsiteli (grape name) was light, almost transparent but full of flavor. Floral nose and dry as a bone. Great with fish. Interestingly, the Rkatsiteli Monastary 2011 made in the qvevri style was bitter, with less flavor.
- Saperavi 2011 – A dry red wine from the East, the Saperavi (grape name) was a beautiful deep cherry color and bursting with red fruit aromas.
- Saperavi Chateau Marko 2010 – Billed by Khareba’s rep as “Stalin’s favorite wine” [note to Khareba marketers: Stalin is not a come-on in the USA] the Chateau Marko is made in the European style, with both aged (20% in French oak) and un-aged grapes. Dry and smooth, with good balance. I’d serve it with a lamb stew if Stalin were coming for dinner.
While not exactly part of our Zaydes’ “old country,” Slovenia is in Eastern Europe—and a winemaking country on the move. Independent since the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the east, and Croatia to the south. Slovenian lore claims that winemaking began there in the 4th century BC and it was Slovenians…not Georgians…who first made wine. Let them duke it out. At least they’re fighting about wine, not religion.
At the Boston Wine Expo, a delightful rep. from Laureate Imports Co., a Georgia- (not Georgian) based importer, presented two Slovenian brands, Avia and Colliano. Both wineries are situated in Goriska Brda, the western-most wine region bordering Italy, and share Italy’s topography and Mediterranean climate. Avia and Colliano are both value-priced wines, with no bottle priced above $15 and many coming in under $7 on US shelves.
What to Drink
White wine dominates Slovenian production. Lisa sampled two each from Colliano and Avia and found them all too sweet for her taste. If your palate favors sweet, here are two pleasing wines to try.
- Avia Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Light, pale color that looks like a Sauvignon Blanc but tasted more like an unoaked Chardonnay. $6/bottle Note: The 2011 is still available for $9; the 2012 is $6…going down?
- Colliano Ribolla Gialla – Grape is native to the Italy/Slovenia border region; light golden color, citrus and soft fruit on the palate. Might be a fun deck wine on a hot summer day. $14/bottle
We just picked up a bottle of Verus Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Light, almost fizzy wine with a hint of citrus and some stone fruit. Good minerality (if you like minerality, which Lisa does and Gary doesn’t.) Far more interesting than the Avia SB and, at $14, worth the doubling of price.
Note: Following is a favorite post from 2013. Prices likely have changed; vintages are…old.
It’s hard to get VinoDuo giddy with anticipation of a wine tasting…we drink wine every day and while we’re not jaded, it takes a lot to get us excited. The invite from Martignetti and Penfolds, the great Australian wine conglomerate, though, had us hooked at “Be among the elite few…global release…2006 Grange.” While Penfolds produces wine under multiple labels and for many budgets, Grange is the gold standard of Australian Shiraz, with a hefty price tag to match. Past vintages have been rated in the high 90’s by wine reviewers and sold for upwards of $500 a bottle. So the opportunity to attend the unveiling of the 2006 Grange, along with other “Penfolds Icon + Luxury Wines”, was tantalizing.
And the icing on the cake? The event was held on the roof deck at Boston’s Legal Harborside. The views of the Harbor were, of course, heavenly as were the Angus beef sliders, sushi, cheeses, and passed hors d’oeuvres.
Tasting Notes The problem with great expectations is they can be easily dashed. Among the Penfolds portfolio we found a mixed bag of surprises, disappointments, and conundrums. And while the Grange 2006 and 2008 (100 Points from Robert Parker/$750 a bottle) was, indeed, an extraordinary wine, we left the tasting even more frustrated by the thorny relationship between wine ratings, reputation, and extravagant pricing.
|Thomas Hyland 2011 Riesling||For lovers of tart, less-creamy whites Penfolds offers a real competitor to New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc and the dry Rieslings from the Finger Lakes. A good balance of minerality, fruit, and acidity. Lisa noted flavors of grapefruit and tar (but in a good way) and a slight fizz. Hyland is one of Penfolds’ value-priced brands. Its welcome complexity and food-friendly flavors make the 2011 Riesling a heavyweight contender at a welterweight price. $11-$14/bottle|
|Penfolds 2010 Bin 8
|This blend was a real crowd pleaser, winning VinoDuo’s “best burger wine” of the day based on its yummy pairing with the Angus slider from Legal Harborside. No fruit bomb; it’s got great balance with a silky tannin structure and a pleasing finish. $18-$22/bottle|
|Penfolds 2010 Bin 389
|One of Gary’s favorites of the tasting, this Cabernet/Shiraz blend offered deep black fruits and silky smooth sensations on the palate. Super-dark and full-bodied. Bin 389 has been around for 50 years and Penfolds has perfected the blend. Often referred to (by Penfolds, at least) as the “poor man’s baby Grange,” we’ll call it the underpaid sommelier’s baby Grange. $56-$60/bottle|
|Penfolds 2010 Bin 707
|Yes, it’s named after the Boeing 707 passenger jet (someone let a Qantas marketer into the winery!) This is 100% serious Cabernet Sauvignon with black fruit and spicy cocoa flavors; a deep mysterious wine that will improve over time. Penfolds suggests that it will cellar for up to 20 years; but who can wait that long? Within the next 1-2 years this will be a treasured complement to an extraordinary meal. And at $270 a bottle, the 707 is not treasure for the thin of wallet. @ $270/bottle|
|Penfolds Grange 2006 and Penfolds Grange 2008
|If your wallet is fat or you make room in your budget for premier wines, Grange is your drink. The 2006 Grange was lighter than other vintages VinoDuo has sampled but it still wowed us. The smooth edges of this velvety potion are highlighted by layers of delicious red and black fruits, leather, vanilla, and a long, satisfying finish. $500/bottle
The 2008 Grange was everything that the 2006 vintage offered and more—darker, fuller, more complex, and more satisfying. The 100-point wine was, indeed, perfection in Gary’s eyes But is it worth $10 a point? $750-$775/bottle
The Condundrum: Why is a 100 Point/$750 bottle better than a 90 Point/$10 bottle? The day after the event, VinoDuo dived into the crawlspace/wine cellar to dig out a 2010 Evodia Old Vines Garnacha from Calatayud, Spain. This Eric Solomon Selection (we love most of Eric’s picks) is a real charmer: delicious, drinkable, and less than $10 a bottle…that’s $740 less than the 2008 Grange. And yet the same Robert Parker who gave the Grange a 100 scored the 2010 Evodia a 90.
Clearly, comparing the 2008 Grange (Shiraz) and the 2010 Evodia (Garnacha) is the ultimate apples/oranges exercise. Different soils, different grapes, different vintages, different continents, different…everything. And yet. Paired with luscious lasagna, the Evodia was as enjoyable to drink as the Grange. How to justify the extra $740 for the Grange? Snob appeal? Marketing prowess? Or does the Grange simply rise to the level of a perfect and perfectly costly wine by virtue of its extraordinary craftsmanship, sophistication, and staying power? Are the bragging rights for extra points really worth in excess of $74 each?
Do you, oh oenophile VinoDuo reader, have answers or comments to these questions? If a $9 wine satisfies as well as a $30 wine or a $700 wine, when and why does the more expensive wine go into your shopping cart or glass?
To readers of a certain age, say over 50, “Dogpatch” was the place Li’l Abner and his hillbilly comic strip pals lazed their life away. For VinoDuo, Dogpatch is now the little-known San Francisco neighborhood that boasts artisan coffee, gritty shipyard remnants, funky shops, and fabulous restaurants. Dubbed a “perennial up-and-coming neighborhood” by one San Francisco guide, Dogpatch has seen good times and bad and today is flourishing with the influx of artists, artisans, and the people who trail them.
We first visited Dogpatch in 2015 to do a tasting at Dogpatch WineWorks a boutique winemaker’s collective and tasting room. Urban winemaking has caught our fancy of late and this no-frills winery—housed in a former warehouse—was smack dab in the middle of a resurgent Dogpatch.
Dogpatch WineWorks hosts several small commercial producers in a “custom crush” arrangement, where artisan winemakers source their own grapes and bring the fruit to WineWorks for production. During our first visit to the tasting room, we sampled the wine of two of Dogpatch’s premier winemakers – Seamus Wines and Jazz Cellars.
Seamus is a family-owned business, with a twist. Father and son winemakers live in Georgia, but they produce 900 cases of California wine in Dogpatch. Jazz Cellars was founded in 2005 by two friends who shared a love of good wine and great music. Jazz’s small-batch producers focus on Rhone-style wines, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. In tandem, Seamus and Jazz Cellars presented Lisa and Gary with a literal Vino Duo wine tasting experience.
In March 2017 we returned to Dogpatch with wine-loving friends in tow—making us VinoQuatro for the day. The cavernous space seems to have become more of an event venue, less a wine-making and tasting enterprise. Hard to fault the owners…it’s a very cool space in an oh-so-hip neighborhood; rental fees for corporate shindigs likely keep the lights on for the wine-makers.
Dogpatch WineWorks doesn’t serve food but encourages take out. We brought in BBQ from nearby Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing and ordered a flight of white wines and a flight of red. Unfortunately, none of the wines shone like the Seamus and Jazz Cellars offerings of previous years. But when you’re chomping on BBQ, washing it down with wine and sharing good times with your friends, the experience alone is worth the trip.